Graduate Partners in Science Education (GPSE) is a graduate student run organization originating in 2005 that pairs graduate students with Phoenix and Tempe middle schoolers. The goal of GPSE is two-pronged. We train graduate students to become better scientists, more experienced educators, and superior science communicators. We also work to keep local middle school students interested and engaged in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by leading and teaching weekly after-school science lessons and projects.
GPSE implements two different after school programs in middle schools in and around Tempe. In the beginner program, first time GPSE mentors are paired together to develop and implement active learning based lessons on a variety of STEM topics. In the advanced programs middle school students who have previously go through the beginner program are provided an opportunity to develop their own projects that are intended for submission to the Arizona Science Fair. Typically veteran GPSE graduate mentors run the advanced programs providing guidance and support.
All middle school students present their experience or science fair investigations at the ASU campus at the annual GPSE banquet and poster session. GPSE was in five different Phoenix and Tempe middle schools in 2016 which included seven classrooms reaching over 100 students. During the fall semester all first year graduate mentors are required to take a one credit course through the graduate college. The course curriculum and classroom instruction are done by the current co-directors of GPSE. Mentors in this class are trained in current pedagogical theory and evidence based practices, which they use to create lesson plans for use in the spring. Mentors demonstrate their lessons to one another so to receive feedback as well as to ensure each mentor has many lessons to draw from when running the beginner program. Many of these lessons are shared on the GPSE website and are free to use by all educators.
Graduate Partners in Science Education is a project-based science mentoring outreach program founded in 2005 by Jon Davis and Nathan Morehouse, at the time both graduate students in ASU’s School of Life Sciences. GPSE was initiated to provide an accessible opportunity for graduate students to become involved in community outreach, while simultaneously addressing real needs in science departments at under-served public schools in downtown Phoenix.
For several years, GPSE worked by having highly motivated doctoral students from the School of Life Sciences at ASU deliver three different modules – microbiology, animal behavior, and ecology – over the course of six weeks during the fall semester. During the spring semester, one of two groups of students were teamed with each mentor to design and conduct research that the students would then present at the Arizona Science and Engineering Fair in April.
In 2010-2011, GPSE teamed up with Dr. Ganesh and Dr. Webber at ASU, both of whom were working with the Kyrene School District through a National Science Foundation K-12 grant. This new collaboration enabled GPSE mentors to acquire training in the most current methods of inquiry-based education and science communication. Furthermore, mentors were then able to develop lessons, which were implemented at Phoenix Preparatory Academy in the fall of 2010. During the spring of 2011, GPSE mentors continued the typical practice of guiding students through the scientific process as they developed, conducted, and presented their own scientific research projects.
In 2011-2012, Rusty Ligon and Brett Seymoure became the new co-directors and GPSE also continued its partnership with Dr. Ganesh and Dr. Webber. This collaborative effort again included rigorous hands-on training in the most up-to-date pedagogical approaches to scientific teaching. During the fall of 2011, each GPSE mentor developed a lesson incorporating the theme of energy into a biological framework. In spring (2012), mentors delivered these lessons in programs placed in every middle school in the Kyrene School District.
During the 2012-2013 we followed the model from the previous year but we implemented our lessons at the Tempe School District. Again, our mentors developed a lesson focused on biology and energy and our mentors delivered many lessons during the spring semester.
In 2013-2014, Brian Haney became the director of GPSE. Brian was focused on continuing GPSE in the current direction and continued to increase lesson development, science education for the public, and enhancement of science instruction at the K-12 level. During the 2014-2015 school year, Jason Borchert joined Brian Haney as co-director of GPSE. At this time GPSE was implementing two different styles of after school programs within the schools in and around Tempe. For the beginner program, GPSE continued with previous method of implementing mentor-developed lesson plans. In the more advanced GPSE programs, middle school students who have already been through GPSE program once are provided an opportunity to develop their own science fair project with the guidance of a GPSE mentor.
The 2015-2016 school year brought new changes to GPSE. Alex Tomes joined Jason Borchert as co-director and begun the process of including graduate students mentors outside the School of Life Sciences. Mentors from different colleges within ASU brought needed academic diversity to GPSE. The new members from the School of Earth and Space Exploration and the Department of Psychology implemented lesson plans outside of the life sciences that diversified GPSE’s educational resources for middle school students.
Jon Jackson joins Alex Tomes as the new co-director for the 2016-2017 academic year. For the previous 3 years Jon has been co-instructor for the GPSE mentor training course taught every fall to insure that graduate mentors are trained in current learning theories and evidence based teaching practices. Guided by such pedagogy graduate mentors have been required to make STEM lessons. It has been required for many year that all GPSE graduate student mentors take this class before beginning to teach middle school students. Every year Jon has made revisions to improve the course. Since becoming co-director Jon has put much effort into to creating a community of practice among the new graduate mentors. To this end the class as a whole has been tasked to create a mini-curriculum of lessons for middle school students that will teach middle school students in the beginner programs skills necessary to excel in the the advanced after school programs. Having created their own list of objectives the new graduate mentors are now using a backwards design approach to create multiple lessons utilizing various active learning strategies. Furthermore, the diversity of graduate mentor backgrounds has begun to diversify the topics addressed in lessons being created. Alex has continued to expand our program into other colleges on the campus and this year brings five new members from the School of Earth and Space Exploration to GPSE. The new members along with our members from the School of Life Sciences are focused on building a core of GPSE lesson plans that will address specific learning objectives for our middle school students.
We are excited to have collaborators throughout the Phoenix area. Through collaborations we are not only able to reach a larger audience, but we are also able to achieve larger projects. If you are interested in collaborating, please contact us!
Andrew Webber PhD, Vice Provost of Graduate Education, Professor School of Life Sciences
Bertram Jacobs PhD, Director School of Life Sciences, Professor School of Life Sciences
Susanne Neuer PhD, Associate Director of Graduate Programs, Professor School of Life Sciences